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Drivers continue switching jobs as turnover rate hits 5-year high

 ( Photo: Shutterstock )
( Photo: Shutterstock )

Driver churn continues to plague the industry as the turnover rate at large truckload carriers has reached its highest point in five years. According to the latest data from the American Trucking Associations’ Trucking Activity Report, the annualized turnover rate increased 4 percentage points to 98% in the second quarter.

“So far this year, the turnover rate at large truckload fleets is up ten percentage points,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist Bob Costello. “The extreme tightening of the driver market – driven by solid freight demand – will continue to challenge fleets looking for qualified drivers.”

Through two quarters, the turnover rate at large carriers (over $30 million in annual revenue) is at 96%, the highest rate since 2013. Smaller truckload fleets saw a slight decline in turnover rate to 72%.

“There is something happening with turnover at these smaller fleets,” Costello said. “The driver market remains tight across the truckload sector, but the turnover rate at these smaller carriers is down 14 points from the same time last year. Like large carriers, small truckload carriers have been aggressively raising pay this year, which has helped their turnover rate level off.”

Less-than-truckload carriers have also seen their turnover rate climb, rising 4 percentage points to 14% – the highest point since the first quarter of 2013.

The highest all-time recorded driver turnover rate was 136% in 2005, Costello said last month at the ATA’s Economics Conference. He noted that over-the-road fleets continue to have the most problems with turnover.

“While private fleets are having problems with drivers, and they are, and while LTL is having problems with drivers, and they are, they pale [in comparison] to the problem of over-the-road fleets,” he said.

Costello estimated the industry is now short 51,000 drivers on a base of about 500,000 drivers. ATA has predicted that if nothing changes, the industry will be short 160,000 drivers by 2026.

“If we [reach 160,000], we’ll be in a world of hurt,” Costello remarked, “because at some point, you’re not going to see six kinds of apples on store shelves, but you’re going to see three kinds of apples.”

Costello went on to point out that while the general economy has recovered since the recession, trucking has not kept pace in hiring trends. To note, he said that since 2017, manufacturing has added 400,000 jobs and construction has added 420,000 but trucking has grown its employee base by just 30,000 positions, and even that is suspect, Costello thinks.

“I think that number is too high,” he said. “I think our industry has struggled so much that 30,000 is too high because” independent contractors (IC) have been switching to employee drivers for several reasons, including the inability to get equipment.

ICs are not counted as employees in government statistics, so when an IC switches to a company driver, that is technically a new hire, even though it didn’t add any capacity to the network.

Costello noted that improving wait times at shippers can help with this problem through improved driver efficiency. If a driver is able to increase their miles from 8,500 to 9,000 a month, that would result in a net increase in capacity of 5.9% and additional pay for the driver. A boost to 9,500 miles a month is equivalent to an 11.8% capacity increase for that truck.


  1. Dan

    I can feel the lies, truck company near me is advertising $1500.00 min
    Weekly. Why are they having trouble finding and keeping drivers then?
    When I see that billboard my mind automatically thinks lie. Because we as drivers can be lied to and treated how ever and paid whatever. Its no big deal. Trucking companies don’t care. Congress don’t care. Shoppers and receivers don’t care….
    Percentage of pay raise in the last 20 years for drivers compared to everyone else?????


  2. Bill

    We modified our schedules to be as driver friendly as possible, pay the highest commission in the area, we pay for uniforms, benefits, etc to slow the revolving door. As the "shortage" increases, demand will go up and thus prices, wages. Eventually, cost will drive shippers to intermodal and other alternatives to the OTR model.

  3. Kasey

    When I was OTR I averaged 72K but had to be gone 21 days and home 48 hours then back on the road. Fuck that! I’ll make less and have a life

  4. Mike

    Because 90% of driver wanted ads are full of lies to get driver’s into driver seat. some of these driver ads are full of BS stating that driver can make 75k or 100k a year, there is no driver making that kind of money it’s all lies most drivers are happy if they can take home 800-1000 a week but the recruiters and ads states otherwise. Driver’s are waiting at shippers and receiver for hours to get loaded and unloaded and no compensation if anything a minimum wage job and these big companies want 18 year old into this messed up career.

    1. Ryan

      There are lots of jobs paying 75k a year and there are a few that are in the upwards of 100k I haven’t personally seen a year under 70k as a company driver in over 10 years now.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected].